The rain was pounding down, making his shirt cling to him. His jacket would be ruined. Oh well. There would always be another one. He scanned the city from the rooftop, watching, waiting for something to go wrong. Because something always had to go wrong, didn’t it?
He’d rode nearly every damned night for a week. Had to get away from Gotham. Had to get away from the Bat. Not that it mattered. He’d seen the manner explode from a television set hanging in a window in the less shitty part of Crime Alley. With any luck, Bruce would be gone for good.
Even if he doubted it.
Bruce always had a plan.
A flash of red caught his attention from the corner of his eye. “Someone’s far from home,” a voice said, and Jason watched as the archer set his bow down and sat cross-legged on the rooftop. He must have been out for awhile, if the darker than usual red hair already starting to go gray clinging to his face was anything to go by.
“Needed a change of scenery,” Jason responded and hesitantly took his helmet off. No point in secret identities anymore. “Nice prosthetic. When’d that happen?”
“While you were gone,” Roy answered, voice cold in a way Jason had never heard it before. When was the last time he’d heard Roy speak? It had to have been months before Jason had disappeared. God, they had both been so young back then, even if Roy had been in his mid twenties, Jason only fifteen.
“You’re out late for you. Don’t you got a kid to take care of?” Jason crossed his arms and frowned when he saw a flash of raw anger in Roy’s eyes. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the time for unsolicited parenting advice, but come on.
“She’s dead,” he said, voice cold and even, and Jason felt his blood run cold.
How much had he missed in six years?
Jason sighed and sat next to him, dangling his legs off the edge of the building. What was the harm in flirting with death? He’d already cheated it more than his fair share of times. “Listen,” he said as he fumbled in his pocket for a pack of cigarettes he’d swiped from a convenience store. You could take the kid out of Crime Alley… “I need a place to stay for awhile. Away from the others.”
He watched Roy nod and move so he was sat beside him. “I’m not exactly the guy you remember, Jason.”
“Yeah, well neither am I,” Jason covered the cigarette with his hand and lit it, taking a long drag. It was stupid, coming there. Roy would turn him away. He was a good guy. Good guys didn’t associate themselves with the monsters who brought a city to its knees. “I just…” he took a shaky breath and another long drag. “I didn’t know where else to go.”
“It’s really fucking weird,” Roy commented, and Jason frowned and turned to face him, studying his face, already covered in worry and frown lines. “I thought you were dead. We all thought you were dead. Bruce said you went on a trip or something? Plane went down?”
"That's not even close to what happened," Jason shook his head. He knew Roy would want more. God, he hoped he wouldn't press it then and there. He didn't think he could handle it. He didn't think he could ever handle talking about it.
"So what happened to your face?" Roy asked, and Jason felt his blood boil. It was fair, he tried to tell himself. He'd made a comment about Roy's arm, or lack thereof rather. Can we keep him, Daddy? Oh please, please, please. He shut his eyes tightly, tried not to remember the burning iron on his skin. Needed to stay focused. Needed to remember where he was. Not back there. Never back there. He heard Roy take a shaky breath, and tried to focus on being grounded back into reality. "You don't have to answer that. If you don't want."
"Joker happened," Jason said, staring back out over the ledge of the building. God, it would be so easy to just slip and fall right off the edge. Then he'd never have to deal with any of that shit ever again. Wouldn't have to come to grips with what happened. Would never have to relive it. Death was peaceful, he hoped.
Anything had to be better than the hell he was living in.
Sometimes, if he thought about it, and sometimes even if he didn't, he could still hear that God forsaken laugh ringing in his ears. It's been six months, Jason.
"Shit, man," Roy breathed, and Jason watched as he lit up his own cigarette. Since when did Roy smoke? Ollie would've killed him if he saw. "I didn't know."
"It's fine," Jason blew out a ring of smoke, watched it disappear into the drizzle. None of it was fine. None of it ever would be. God, if the Joker weren't already dead...
"I saw what happened," Roy commented after a long moment. "With Bruce." Jason shut his eyes. Who cared if Bruce Wayne's dirty little secret got out? Who cared if he might be dead? He didn't have to take Alfred with him. It was only a matter of time before they connected Dick and Nightwing, though. Prettyboy didn't deserve it.
How long had Dick spent looking before giving up?
Because he must have given up too.
Everyone always would.
"You can have my couch," Roy said after a moment, and Jason could have hugged him then and there. It wasn't much, but anything was better than trying to blend in back home. Too obvious. Too risky.
Even here, the scarred 'J' on his face would make him stand out like a sore thumb. A constant reminder he'd never be able to get rid of. He made a mental note to thank the Joker for that one. Really, it must have been one of his better acts.
We don't want him to end up back here, do we?
And for a moment, he wasn't sitting on a rooftop with Roy. He was in the dark, bound to a wheelchair with barbed wire that pulled at his skin as he tried to get out. Because he had to get out. Because it had been nine months and Bruce wasn't coming and Bruce had replaced him and no one was going to save him and he was going to be stuck there for the rest of his Goddamned life being tortured while doctors were held at gunpoint to save him and it was never going to end.
"Jason?" a voice asked, soft and gentle, not harsh and maniacal, and Jason had to take several shaky breaths to remember where he was and who he was with. Just Roy, he tried to tell himself. Just Roy. Just Roy. "Jaybird, what's wrong?"
He wanted to laugh. Jaybird. It was a lifetime ago he'd let people call him that. Now there was too much mileage. He could never go back to being the dorky kid who got bullied in school. He could never be young again.
Was he ever really young to begin with?
He shook his head again, trying to clear it. "Can we just go?" he asked, voice small, broken. And he could have cried with relief when Roy nodded and stood, holding a hand out toward Jason.
Jason stared at it.
How long had it been since he'd touched someone? Months, at least. Maybe even years. The idea felt strange. Alien. He hated it and loved it at the same time. He reached and took the older man's hand, letting Roy pull him to his feet. "Come on," the redhead sighed and squeezed his hand. "Let's get you home."
Shitty didn't begin to describe Roy's apartment. It was falling apart, paint peeling on the walls, and carpeting that had definitely seen better days. It was sparsely furnished, a couch that looked straight out of the seventies and a card table with a lawn chair next to it. What had happened to the trust fund Ollie had set up for him?
Jason wasn't so sure he wanted to know.
At least it was clean, even if the roaches he'd seen in the hall leading to Roy's door had suggested it would be anything but. "It's not much," Roy said and shut the door, deadbolting it behind him. "But it's mine."
"Thanks again," Jason muttered and glanced around. It almost reminded him of home, back before Bruce. Back before Robin. Back before his life had completely gone to hell and stayed there. Something about shitty apartments in shitty parts of town brought him comfort in a way that nothing else really ever could.
"Any time," Roy replied and set his bow down on the counter. No need to hide weapons without a kid to get into them, Jason supposed. What the hell had happened to Lian? What the hell had happened to Roy? "Make yourself at home. I'll go see if I can find something for you to change into."
Jason nodded and watched him leave. He hesitated before sitting down on the couch, flinching when it groaned under his weight. At least he had a roof over his head. Something was better than nothing.
Nothing was better than anything.
The light above him was flickering, and Jason wondered why Roy hadn't called the landlord about it. Or maybe he had and they just hadn't done anything about it. Figured.
Everything was bare, and that unsettled him in a way that nothing else could have. No pictures of friends, family, of anything... Just blank walls and empty space. The place Jason remembered had been filled with little personal touches. Drawings Lian made at daycare. Pictures of Roy and the Titans.
"Okay, so I don't think any of my shit's going to fit you," Roy said as he emerged from what Jason assumed was the bedroom. He tossed Jason a pillow and blanket, and Jason caught them with ease. "Bathroom's through my room. Eat whatever, but there isn't much."
Jason stood up and tried to stay focused on turning the couch into something resembling a bed. His stomach growled, but he ignored it. Knowing Roy, there was probably just leftover take out in the fridge. When was the last time Jason had eaten a proper meal? He didn't remember. "Thanks again. For everything."
"No problem," Roy responded. "I'll be in my room. If you need anything."
Jason nodded and watched him leave before lying down on the couch, not bothering with the blanket, not wanting to be restrained in case he had to make a quick get away. He needed to sleep. He knew that.
But sleep was something easier said than done when nights were filled with nothing but horrific nightmares and memories he'd rather forget.
He tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable on a couch that was liable to fall apart under him.
And damned if it wasn’t the best night’s sleep he’d had in years.